Learning? That's for young'uns

As we get older, we tend to believe the cliché “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” because we’ve seen many examples proving it to be somewhat accurate.

There are people out there who don’t know how to use a smart phone, shop online or send email. It is not because they don’t have access to the know-how but rather they have come to believe that they are too old to learn.

Most older people have a hard time learning new things but it is not because of their age. It is because they make the conscious decision to stop learning even though they may not realize it.

Think about it.

When we are born, we are learning non-stop about how the world works. Everyone around us is helping by teaching us new words and expressions. As children, we explore the world trying to understand what crayons taste like, how to get our parents’ attention, etc.

As we get older, we enter formal schooling where we learn continuously about social interactions (making friends, dealing with authorities, dating etc), hobbies (sports, musics, art, etc) and academic subjects (math, science, language, etc). After college or grad school, we enter the workforce learning about our job functions and office politics.

After we gain a certain level of expertise in our current job, we reach a critical point. Up until this point, learning has been somewhat mandatory but it is at this point where learning becomes optional. We no longer need to learn new things to survive. We can just occasionally update our knowledge and still be ok. This is the point where some choose to continue learning new things while others choose to stop learning.

Unfortunately, many people choose the latter. It could be because they are tired of learning and “just want to relax” or perhaps they feel that they’ve “graduated” and learned all they needed to know. Some even use the excuse that they can’t learn anymore because they are old. Once they make this choice, a habit forms and that person’s ability to learn, like any unused muscle, weakens.

Old people can’t learn because they stop learning new things.

That is why it is important to live a life of continuous learning. If you want to be good at learning new things, then you must constantly learn new things. All the old people I know who are vibrant and energetic are always striving to learn new things and it is because they continue to learn that their brains stay sharp.

What new things have you been learning recently? If you are not learning anything new, are you okay with losing your ability to learn? Think about all the people who don’t take advantage of the internet because they refuse to learn how to use it. What are you missing out on?

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Robert Chen

Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.

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10 Responses to Why Old People Have a Hard Time Learning New Things

  1. Amy says:

    True and interesting! Many younger peole also choose to stop learning, which is unfortunate.

    • Robert Chen says:

      yea, the great thing is a person can always start learning again if they choose. Just have to shake off the rust. The longer you stop learning, the more rust that needs to be shaken off

  2. MarianC says:

    You bring up a great point, encouraging older adults to actively engage in learning new things is important. There are psychological, social, and biological benefits to learning new things, such as, memory improvement, social interaction, and reduced risk of depression. I believe we are always learning new things, even if we have not made the conscious decision to do so. For example, every time you turn on the news you learn something new. I realize that this may not be as stimulating or require as much participation as other forms of learning but the information they are processing is new. We do not lose our ability to learn if we decide to stop learning (which I personally feel is not possible in normal aging). Losing your ability to learn is pathological and not part of the normal aging process. Healthcare professionals should encourage older adults to remain actively involved in learning and educate them on the benefits of doing so.

    • Robert Chen says:

      Thanks for your comment Marian. Older people can learn and need to be encouraged, even pressured, to do so. We should not allow them to use age as an excuse and keep our expectations for them high. I find that people usually step up to your expectations if they know you are sincere.

  3. Will says:

    but how do we get them to understand that they are not willing to learn? if they do not have any mental illness, senile or whatnot, then there is ZERO reason to stop learning!!!

    • Robert Chen says:


      I completely agree with you that it is always better to continuous learn. As for getting others to see that and change, it’s much tougher. People do what they do because they receive a positive benefit from it. Perhaps they stop learning because they associate it with unpleasant memories from their past – think of how happy you were when you didn’t need to cram for school anymore. One way to get people to understand the benefits of learning is perhaps to show them examples of people they look up to who are still learning and leading lives that they aspire to live.

  4. Ricky says:

    I was searching for this topic and came across your site. Great article! Completely agree. I work in a cell phone shop where honestly a bunch of elderly folk purchase smart phones and just can’t seem to ever grasp certain concepts. The problem is they expect to do everything too quick and don’t understand that the young people who are “so smart” with things like technology spent years tinkering and learning the basics before being able to do much more things. They are honestly just being lazy about it. I’ve seen plenty if older people learn things really fast that they’ve never done before.

    It’s all about attitude and willingness to learn.

    Think of how motivated you are as a kid to learn and explore. Somewhere along the lines we focus on careers and being content and satisfied and lose sight on what makes us curious and what we want to find out. State of mind!

    • Robert Chen says:

      Great point Ricky – it is all about state of mind and the willingness to put in the time to acquire new skills. I think with older people, the fear of failure becomes greater since many of them have stopped acquiring new skills. They don’t even try because they don’t want to look dumb. It’s all about having that beginner’s mind. Thanks for sharing your insight and the nice example.

  5. I am 67 and I make an effort to learn something new and unique on a constant basis. I went back to Uni in my 50s and completed a Social Work Degree. My last project was making a patchwork quilt. I attended some local lessons and a few weeks later had a huge quilt for my king size bed (I have subsequently made 4 quilts). Luckily I have a veggetable plot and grow all my vegetables and fruit that will happily grow in the Highlands of Scotland. I am learning new ways of preserving and cooking my own produce. I keep my iPad at the side of my bed and often watch TV on it, chat on Facebook, and use the internet to purchase items, browse the news and other interesting topics. I’m a volunteer at my local museum and that is fun socialising with children and adults. There is so much more I could write but with the quantity of ‘i’ the post is beginning to look like self-obsession. Please never feel intimidated to learn new skills or attend courses. Some of my best times were spent with the younger students at University and they really appreciated my input on life experience. As the Nike advert says ‘just do it’.

    • Robert Chen says:

      Speysidesimpleliving – thank you for sharing your examples from your inspiring life of continuous learning. I hope others will follow you in learning new skills and enjoying unique experiences.

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